Musical is a Dreamcome true for local Holocaust refugee

Gideon Sorokin has packed so much into a single life — Holocaust refugee, Israeli freedom fighter, immigrant veterinarian in the Deep South, rabbi — it’s no surprise he wrote his autobiography.

But then — five, six, seven, eight — he turned it into a musical.

At least, the creative team of Adam Sandel and Richard Link have done so. Working closely with Sorokin (who served as producer and guiding light), lyricist Sandel and composer Link created “Gideon’s Dream,” a two-act musical based on Sorokin’s childhood in prewar Austria.

The show makes its world premiere Friday, Sept. 14 at San Rafael’s Dominican University, not far from Sorokin’s Mill Valley home. A second performance will take place the next evening, at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.

Why a musical? Sorokin, 77, says it has a lot to do with his Viennese boyhood. “Vienna is the birthplace of all kinds of musical productions,” he says. “I love opera. I love musicals. I love to sing. I have it in my blood.”

An exhaustive biographical sketch it’s not. “Gideon’s Dream” recounts only the early years of Sorokin’s life, through his idyllic boyhood and the coming Nazi storm, to his ultimate escape to Palestine.

For fans of musical theater, “Gideon’s Dream” may seem like a throwback to an earlier era. A lot earlier.

“Some songs have a very Viennese, European flavor,” says composer Link from his London home. “Some of it is very traditional musical theater, like old Rodgers and Hammerstein. I’m not a rock and roll guy. My background was Cole Porter and Gershwin.”

This isn’t the first time Link and Sandel have joined up. The two have collaborated on other projects, including a musical based on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” called “Dreamworld,” and a cabaret revue titled “Watch Me Shine.” Sandel also performs as a standup comic.

“These artistic people want total freedom,” says Sorokin, who has bankrolled the musical up to this point. “They make little money but they have a lot of pride in their work. These are geniuses. I was extremely lucky to get them.”

Sorokin’s part in the musical isn’t all behind the scenes. For the upcoming performances he makes a cameo appearance as a rabbi defending the young Gideon, who has just lost his cat, Minka, to a sadistic Gestapo officer. He gets to sing, too.

It’s impossible to tell Sorokin’s story without straying into depressing scenes of Nazi violence. Kristallnacht is portrayed in a darkened theater, with the glow of a hundred synagogue fires offering grim illumination. The cast sings a mournful Yiddish tune, “Es Brennt,” which means, “It is burning.”

“We use ‘Hatikvah’ a number of times,” says composer Link. “There’s a scene when Nazi youth parade outside. The family is hiding inside, and the father starts to sing ‘Hatikvah’ to keep them reassured. In another moment, Gideon and his friends dream of going to Palestine, singing a klezmer-style song. At the end of the piece, ‘Hatikvah’ and klezmer come together.”

Though “Gideon’s Dream” tells the story of one individual, Sorokin hopes audiences will take away from it a larger lesson.

“The Holocaust was not something born in one day,” he says. “The idea was to kill Jewish culture. On the other hand, Jews hold together in times of crisis. That’s why we have survived for thousands of years. Teens should come and see this show. It will strengthen their Jewish values and their future.”

Link and Sandel came away from their experience impressed with their subject.

“I think he’s an extraordinary man,” says Link. “His confidence and ego kept his family alive. That’s a huge testament to him as a man and the way he’s gone through life. I don’t think I could have survived all that.”

“Gideon’s Dream” will take place 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14, at Dominican University’s Angelico Hall, 50 Acacia Ave., San Rafael; also 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California St., S.F. Tickets: $15-$25. Information for Dominican show: For the JCC: (415) 292-1233 or

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.